Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published September 26, 2012, 11:26 AM

Officials: ND ammonia plant won't put area in danger of spills

While it can be harmful, any additional ammonia shipments going through the area are not necessarily a significant concern for Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther.

By: By Brian Willhide , Forum Communications

The proposed $1.2 billion Spiritwood, N.D., Nitrogen Project by CHS Inc., expected to be completed by the second half of 2016, would be one of the largest projects in state history, as referenced by the recent announcement of the proposed fertilizer plant by Gov. Jack Dalrymple and CHS officials.

The plant, to be built in Spiritwood, N.D., about 10 miles east of Jamestown, would produce 2,200 tons of ammonia daily and supply anhydrous ammonia and other fertilizers to farm supply retailers and farmers in the Dakotas, as well as parts of Minnesota, Montana and Canada. Anhydrous ammonia, when applied to soil, helps provide increased yields of crops such as corn and wheat.

The possibility of transporting that much anhydrous ammonia per day brings about the possible concern over an ammonia leak, such as the one that took place in Minot on Jan. 17, 2002.

In the Minot incident, a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment killed one man and sent dozens of people to the hospital with breathing problems when a cloud of anhydrous ammonia was sent over the city.

At the time, George Maher, now-retired North Dakota State University Extension Service specialist, told The Associated Press that anhydrous ammonia can suffocate someone quickly and cause deep-freeze burns.

No large concern

While it can be harmful, any additional ammonia shipments going through the area are not necessarily a significant concern for Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther.

“It’s harmful. Only a small bit is harmful, but it really doesn’t bring me a huge concern,” he says.

Specifically, anhydrous is more hazardous than other types of ammonia because it is pure, according to Dwight Aakre, NDSU Extension Service’s farm management specialist.

In his experience, however, those working in the production and supply industry, as well as the farmers, themselves have had a good track record handling anhydrous ammonia.

“As far as concerns about anhydrous, you could say the same about many of the chemicals or ingredients at similar-type plants. You always have to take precautions,” Aakre says.

Reuther says the chances of an incident similar to Minot’s occurring exist even without a proposed plant in Spiritwood.

“There’s always potential for anything to happen. When you think about the rail lines we have coming through this area already, we’ve got hazardous materials coming through town every day — crude oil comes through, acids, a lot of materials,” he says.

Being prepared

Reuther says the JFD would work as a mutual aid to the Jamestown Rural Fire Department, which would begin the response in the event of an accident in Spiritwood — about 10 miles east of Jamestown city limits.

“JFD personnel are trained for hazmat (hazardous materials) operation so we can contain, dike, dam and divert. First responders at the operations level are expected to respond in a defensive fashion to control the release from a safe distance and keep it from spreading, but we cannot go into the hot zone and plug or patch,” he says. “Depending on the viability of a hazmat tech team, we would ask for mutual aid from Fargo or Bismarck.”

With the possibility of this large fertilizer plant coming to the area, Jamestown Rural Fire Chief Rich Woehl says his department will be prepared.

“We’re well aware of what’s out there and what’s to come and we’re in the process of looking to see what we’ll need to support them,” he says.

Woehl says he expects there will be extensive firefighter training that needs to be conducted, but also said it’s still very early in the process.

“This is pretty early in the game to get into specifics, and I can’t even really offer much of a comment since we don’t even really know exactly what we’re getting into,” he says.

Trained professionals

In addition to the assistance of local fire departments, Reuther speculated that a large plant such as the one proposed at Spiritwood would also hire the services of a well-trained, well-equipped team in the event a leak or incident of that sort was to take place.

“You’re only prepared to a certain degree, but just like a big plant like Cavendish here near Jamestown, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance they’ll have their own team out there to respond,” he says.

Cavendish Farms in southeast Jamestown is a producer of frozen potato products for retail, restaurant and institutional use and is one of the largest employers in Jamestown.

It’s still too early in the planning process for CHS to determine exactly its plans for providing emergency response and protocol, but did say it is an extremely high priority for the company, according to Dan Mack, vice president of transportation and terminal operations for CHS.

“CHS has a strong safety culture, and the technology providers and construction firms we’ve partnered with will have safety requirements and the ability to provide a safe facility,” he says. “Our intent is to have the latest and most current technology available, utilizing numerous safety components and protocols to provide a safe environment for our employees and the surrounding area.”

Editor’s Note: This article is from Forum Communications, which owns Agweek.